Farming News - Productivity the key to unlocking future opportunities in Agriculture

Productivity the key to unlocking future opportunities in Agriculture

17 Feb 2020
Frontdesk / Finance

The industry and government must together seize the opportunities presented by new policy frameworks and technology to lead a transformation in our farming industry.

Driving a massive step change in productivity growth is the key to unlocking a successful future highlights a major report published today by the Food & Drink Sector Council (FDSC).

With the UK leaving the EU, imminent changes to agricultural policy and the pressure to achieve net zero emissions, the report, prepared by industry experts for the FDSC, highlights the steps that together, industry and government can take to overcome the productivity challenge that has long faced the British farming industry.

The report by the Council’s Agricultural Productivity Working Group identifies five key areas for the industry to address to improve:

  • The need for UK agriculture to become more data driven
  • Development of the Evidence for Farming Initiative (EFI) to address fragmentation in knowledge exchange
  • Alignment of innovation funding and strategy to the needs of the industry
  • Addressing low uptake of agricultural skills and training
  • The need for infrastructure and policy to enable productivity gains

Peter Kendall, member of the FDSC and chairman of the APWG, said: “Leaving the EU has significant implications for who our industry competes with. Support systems are going to change and Net Zero is in almost every headline you see. There’s a massive coming together of issues – a perfect storm that will bring with it huge challenges but also opportunities for the industry.

“The industry has come together to produce this report, pinpoint where the key challenges lie and how we, together should try and address them.

“The challenge coming is probably as big as any ever experienced by our industry. We are operating in unprecedented and uncertain times and it is vital for the industry to operate as one. Farming is at the beginning of a revolution that will leave big chunks of the industry unrecognisable from today. Robotics, artificial intelligence, carbon capture and use of data just a few areas. We could be so much more effective through achieving unity of purpose.”

Shaped by a broad spectrum of experts and stakeholders from across the industry, the report highlights why agriculture’s rate of productivity growth is lower than many of its major competitors. This could leave it in danger of being left behind by competitors, denying consumers and the UK domestic food industry affordable, sustainably produced agricultural goods.

It highlights the distinction between production and productivity. It also covers the greener future of farming, recognising that improving resource efficiency is essential to both productivity growth and sustainability.

Overhauling our innovation and knowledge exchange systems are critical components of the recommendations. A centre-piece of the recommendations is the establishment of the Evidence for Farming Initiative to create a single source of evidence based practice, drawing from expertise globally to highlight what works. The report also calls for an expansion of farmer to farmer learning and for the industry to embrace benchmarking through key performance indicators (KPIs).

Skills are also cited in the report with the lack of full staff proficiency driving up the operating costs of 38% of agricultural employers with skills gaps in 2015. The report shows that evidence from the Irish Revenue shows that trained farmers in Ireland have, on average, a 12% higher profit margin than untrained farmers.

Mr Kendall added: “If you look at our competitors, in 10 years’ time they are going to be in a far better positions than we are in terms of driving the level of ambition for skills and training. So, the question is do we acknowledge that we have a productivity challenge and do we, as an industry, have the ambition to reverse this trend?

“We need clear policy and an industry working closer together than ever before though this period of transformation to meet the challenges and make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead. The importance will be in getting the infrastructure right. With technology, for example, there’s no point having black spots in rural areas. Whether it’s 4G or 5G we need reliable and complete coverage.

“Our report doesn’t have all the answers but identifies what we as an industry need to do collaboratively with Government. We are in an age of major disruption and by creating a collective industry wide ambition is the only way to deal with change and ensure we can compete in the next 10 years and beyond. Things are going to change beyond recognition very quickly. It is imperative that we help equip farmers to adapt and thrive.”

Iain Ferguson, Industry Co-Chair, Food and Drink Sector Council, said: “This report is an important milestone in identifying the key challenges facing UK agriculture and offering practical and data-led solutions to meet the rapidly changing demands of our economy.  The Food and Drink Sector Council Agricultural Productivity Working Group has created a clear roadmap to boost productivity through knowledge exchange, increasing innovation and developing a pipeline for a future workforce.

“The Agricultural Productivity Working Group is showing us the path to a productive and cutting edge future for UK agriculture.  However success will only be achieved through support across the food chain and government partnership with the Food and Drink Sector Council.”

NFU President Minette Batters said: "I am very pleased to support the APWG recommendations, which will offer a significant boost to a sector that offers so much to Britain at a time of great change and opportunity. A welcome feature of the partnership we've formed around the productivity challenge has been the full involvement of industry and government. This must be maintained as we move to act on these recommendations."

CLA President Mark Bridgeman said:“There is no one solution to the productivity challenges faced across the farming industry, and the size of the challenge for individual businesses should not be underestimated. The five priority areas combined have the potential to transform the industry over time, but will not happen on their own. These recommendations need to be turned into action.Industry and government must seize the opportunity to support farming businesses during the transition away from direct payments with advice and information, investment in skills and training and  grants to help farmers adjust.The CLA Rural Powerhouse campaign calls for actions to deliver profitable and sustainable farming and these are very much in line with the findings of the APWG.A key part of this is to ensure that farmers and landowners have the necessary support to help change their businesses.”

George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “I’m grateful to everyone involved in producing this report, which sets out how we can boost productivity and support our farmers to unleash their potential. With our landmark Agriculture Bill, we now have the opportunity to transform British farming, and industry and government working more closely together will be an important part of this.”

The full report can be found on the FDSC website here.